Though U.S. coverage of the Paralympics still vastly pales in comparison to other countries’, supporters say the amped up airtime is a welcome improvement likely inspired by the veterans who are competing.
A record 2.2 million tickets were sold for the Games that begin Wednesday, the Associated Press reports, and media outlets across the world have responded to the demand. Britain’s Channel 4 will show 150 hours of programming (and about 350 hours more online) and the Australian Broadcasting Corp. will feature about 100 hours of coverage. NBC, which drew 31 million viewers during the Olympics, is featuring the Paralympic Games for the first time and showing four one-hour long highlights programs, according to PBS.
While the coverage is certainly relatively sparse, some advocates for adaptive athletics feel emboldened by the network’s decision and partly credit the military presence for the change.
"The veterans are having a huge impact,” Christine Tinberg, founder of Bicycling Blind Los Angeles, told the Guardian. “It pulls people's hearts. And the government is putting a lot of money into sports facilities for them."
This year, the United States' 227-member Paralympic team includes 20 military veterans and active-duty service members, some of whom were injured in combat, according to Team USA.
One such athlete includes Brad Snyder who lost his eyesight when an IED exploded in his face in Afghanistan in September 2011, NBC reports. The former Navy swim captain returned to the pool soon after becoming blind and will compete on the one-year anniversary of the devastating explosion.
“Competing on that day…means I’ve walked the path from being chained to the bed at exactly a year ago to competing on an international level at event like the Paralympics,” Snyder told the news outlet. “It means I won a little bit.”
The International Paralympic Committee said it sees the increased U.S. coverage for the Games that are drawing the 4,280 Paralympians from 165 countries -- the largest number ever –- as a win, too.
"It's tremendous news that the London 2012 Paralympic Games will get more airtime in the US then ever before and thoroughly deserved,” Sir Philip Craven, the International Paralympic Committee president, told the Guardian.
But some activists simply aren’t satisfied and have turned to galvanizing supporters online to urge American networks to give more recognition to the Paralympics. Damon Herota, an IT consultant in Florida, set up one petition that collected more than 1,400 signatures.
"Four 60-minute segments and one 90-minute segment is embarrassing," Herota told the Telegraph of the U.S.’s coverage. "The effect on people would be simply amazing and the barriers it would break down between able-bodied Americans and the disabled would be monumental.”